VidThru.com: Where did you get the ideas for spicing up the regular checkers game–the traps, the wasps, and all that?
Kilroy Fx: That’s a good question. I guess you just have to get into that realm of what’s fun. There’s something about checkers that I don’t like. There’s a dynamic that can occur if your opponent is a lot better than you. It makes the game not fun. Nobody wants to lose, but somebody has to lose in the game; there has to be a winner and a loser. And I wanted there to be a way for the guy who really didn’t know how to play checkers to get a little bit of a ha-ha on this checkers master guru who is just literally going to destroy him. And I thought, if I could hide little secret traps where he’s going to get a king and I cut his checker open and blood goes everywhere and I smash up his beautiful-looking king I can say, “Ha ha, now you’re jumping around with the all-smashed-up king. Yeah, you might beat me, but I just got a bunch of gold off you, I just leveled up twice, I have a bunch of experience and I cracked your TV screen at home.”
Rage-quitting is the new thing. It happens on every game – Left4Dead, Call of Duty, Gears of War, board games, card games. People don’t like the feeling of losing. It hurts, and they quit. They’ll even go as far as just turning their Xbox off. So I built in rage-quitting. I kept going back to how I felt as a child and I made the game so you could see the other guy flying around, you could feel his presence, you can see him getting angry by attacking you with arrows, and…then I made rage-quitting part of the process. It goes on your flag. You can see how much somebody rage quits, you can actually rank up in your rage-quitting, you can crack the board. I acknowledge it in the game.
VidThru.com: What about the multiplayer aspect? What were your goals for this part of the game?
Kilroy Fx: It was a bit of a hard process because a lot of indie games don’t have multiplayer. I was told many, many times, “You can’t do it, it’s too hard, don’t attempt it.“ And I have seen a lot of games fail. There are a lot of games that have never made it to the Xbox, people have been working on them for two, three, four years and they just never get finished. And when you talk to the developers they sound broken – they sound very depressed about it. It’s a failure, it’s a black mark. I was very afraid of taking on multiplayer because the coding itself is confusing, it’s not intuitive. So those were my demons in the back of my mind.
My other worry was that there’d be nobody to play. Indie games don’t get a big following. They don’t have a lot of people who just magically find them and download them. I was worried that people would buy the game and there’d be nobody to play online. So, realizing this, I built in a special algorithm for seeking out games on the Internet, on Xbox LIVE. I tried really hard and some of these ideas actually paid off. One of them is, when you’re roaming around the castle in single player, people anywhere in the world, anyone who fires up a game of BloodyCheckers can see you while you’re in your castle as if you’re waiting to play a multiplayer game. When they click on your name they sort of appear at the bottom of your screen as if they’re in your castle with you. You can choose to address them, talk to them, play them online or you can kick them out of your castle. This works really well because I know that at any given time there are anywhere from 100 to 1000 people playing the game….basically, as soon as you fire up the game you have a virtual lobby. You look like you’re waiting to play a multiplayer game. And that code is very difficult to manage and its very unstable and it can result in some crashes. And Xbox LIVE can betray you, and not properly handle the networking – but I put in a lot of code and a lot of protective measures, and it really seems to work. At any given time I can find anywhere from 0-7 games online.
VidThru.com: How often do you get on and get beat by other players in your own game?
Kilroy Fx: I play anywhere from 10-30 games a day. At first I got beat a lot and many times I would allow myself to get beaten. But now I go on for pure pleasure and I try as hard as I can and I probably lose a third of my games, because there are people that are just very good at checkers. I’ve had some really violent, bloody games where I’ve gone to head to head with these guys who are at a higher level than me. They have all their spells, all their attacks. They have great strategy, strategy that goes beyond the rules of checkers. If they’re planning a double jump they’ll fire a bunch of cannonballs at me. My screen gets covered in blood and I can’t see what they’re doing. And it’s all part of that psychological warfare that goes on.
VidThru.com: Can you reveal what you’re planning for some of the upcoming updates?
Kilroy Fx: Well, I have to bring BloodyCheckers to its conclusion. There are a couple of loose threads, there are a couple of items that don’t work properly – it says that you can’t use them yet. I’m going to activate those items, which will open up new sections of the castle. My goal is to have double the size of the game without changing the price, if I can. There’ll be a couple of creatures you need to fight and defeat in order to get to this new section of the castle, and then you’ll end up in one epic battle, probably a 30-minute fight at the very very end, you’ll probably level up to level 100. This fight will last forever and once you beat this fight you basically will have freed the whole castle. Everything will be revealed. You’ll learn who Creaky is, you’re going to learn who you are. The assumption of the game is that you are you in the game. But you are not you. Who could fall into a pit and not die? How can Creaky, who’s trapped behind a door, walk through walls and yet act as though he’s trapped? Is Creaky really your friend? Why are there two kings? Why are there two queens? Why is the castle all dark? There are a lot of unanswered questions.
Checkers to me was a conduit to exiting the Dark Ages – checkers was a way to take your violence from medieval times, when people had knights and castles and armor and weapons and torture devices, and to civilize the process into a board game, and settle your disputes in a more civilized diplomatic way. That’s the story of BloodyCheckers. BloodyCheckers represents all the violence and the torment of medieval times. But the updates will give more content, more story, a little more action, more opportunities to play checkers. There will be some more scariness, creepiness added to the game. Basically I’ll probably add another 30 hours of gameplay when I’m done, and the game will be an absolute treasure to that one nine-year-old kid on a rainy day when he only has 80 MS points and he’s really bored and he’s sick of the rage-quitting and the bashing going on Call of Duty 4 where everyone mods, they cheat, they rage-quit. He’ll find this game, which is based on an incredible amount of fairness. That’s the thing about checkers – you can’t cheat. It’s very fair. You see the move they make and then you make your move. And it uses a different part of your brain, and it makes you feel smarter when you play it. So you’ll be able to explore this castle for weeks without any pressure, without any time limits, without any way of dying.
VidThru.com: Has the game met your original expectations, in terms of audience and gameplay?
Kilroy Fx: I’d say right now it’s right on the edge of exceeding my expectations. On so many levels it has already met my expectations. My expectations went as far as, can I play people online whenever I want? Yeah. Are the games fun and emotional? Yes. Are people noticing the little tiny, tiny details that I put into the game that all my friends and family and people told me was just a waste of my time? Yes, they did notice these tiny details. If two people out of 100 say, “Wow, the smoke coming off the tip of the candle looks really real,“ then that’s exceeded my expectations….I’m amazed that the stuff people find. If I take any shortcuts people will notice it – and luckily, I really didn’t take any shortcuts.
VidThru.com: How long will you support BloodyCheckers?
Kilroy Fx: I will support it for six months no matter how badly the game does or how well the game does. Obviously, if the game does incredibly well maybe I’ll support it longer, but I will support it for at least six months. I’ve already released three updates which have improved the game and now my next update is going to be all creative, content-related. I think it’s only fair because I know there are problems with the game and I want people to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. I don’t want someone to say, “Oh, I spent a dollar on this game and I hate it. I never play it, it’s horrible.” Because I can’t give them their money back – Microsoft won’t let me. I have no system to help somebody who just has a bad experience. I did have small kids downloading the game who were six and seven getting really scared, saying the game was too scary for them to play. I apologized and said the game does have a really high rating on it – that’s why I made the maturity and violence (rating) really high. I don’t want you to download the game and see stuff that you don’t like. So there really wasn’t really a whole lot I could do.
VidThru.com: So what would you say is the most necessary quality for someone to be a developer?
Kilroy Fx: I think you need to basically be able to not give up, even if it means taking a break. Now when I was making BloodyCheckers, I got really depressed for about four weeks. There was one time where a couple of things happened which were horrible. The game was having problems, and for four weeks I didn’t work on the game. I couldn’t – it was just horrible. Even thinking about the game just made me depressed. I hated the game, it wasn’t working, there were problems – and that’s part of the process. And eventually, something kicked in and I started working on it again and I kept coming back to it. So I think you need to remember that everyone struggles, nobody knows exactly what they’re doing, everyone has doubts, everyone has fears, everyone has ups and downs.
You have to remain optimistic. You have to look at things that inspire you. Don’t look at indie games when you’re making an indie game. Don’t look at bad games. There’s an old, old piece of advice someone gave me when I was skiing or sledding. They said, “Don’t look at the tree cause you’ll ski into the tree…you tend to go where you look.“ So if you’re looking at bad games you might accidentally design a bad game. You might use some of the techniques because they used those techniques. So look at stuff that inspires you. Go back to why you wanted to make the game. Go back, look at those amazing games, and realize you want to make something like that. There’s nothing wrong with copying, there’s nothing wrong with mimicking stuff that you love. That’s how you learn, that’s how you get good.
That’s a really hard question because it’s like saying that if the person finds that quality inside themselves then they’ll end up making a game, but the process is very precarious. Anything could go wrong. You could be six months in and you could lose all your data. When I was six months in, XNA (Microsoft’s game development toolkit) changed all its code. They updated XNA from 3.1 to 4.0. It took me two months to rewrite the game. I had 600 errors. There were commands that just didn’t exist anymore. It really hurt. It really, really threw me off course. I was planning to release in January; I had to release in June.
VidThru.com: After you’re done with BloodyCheckers, what’s next for you?
Kilroy Fx: I still haven’t really locked down on anything. There are a lot of sources for ideas: one is the fan base of BloodyCheckers. They feel that they have some right to dictate what comes next, which is true. And I’m tempted to follow the lines of BloodyCheckers and make sort of an RPG game with a castle. I could remove the checkers and make it more sword-and-shield action. But the truth is, I have other ideas. Bizarre ideas that are probably really risky. I want to make a sledding game, where you take a rope to the top of a mountain on your sled and you sled down in races and you sled down in deathmatches with other people. You can knock them into trees or off a cliff, you can make them do a yard sale, in a beautiful beautiful snowy landscape that I’ve never seen in a game before. You can upgrade your sled, you can throw snowballs at people; you start with a base sled. It could be a disk saucer or a toboggan type or one of the standard rectangular plastic sleds. I have ideas about creating a simulation game, a space game. Whatever I do, I’m going to research it a lot before I make it and I’m really going to have a complete story before I start. I learned when I made BloodyCheckers, it is very risky going stream-of-consciousness. Very risky, because unless your mind is very organized you’ll end up with chaos.
BloodyCheckers is available on the Indie Games channel on Xbox LIVE Arcade for 80 MS Points. You can visit the Facebook page and give creator Kilroy Fx (real name withheld) feedback through the game – just click on the button with your name on it.